Thursday, January 31, 2008

Is panic an understatement?

For anyone who knows me really well, you know I can get obsessed with houses. Actually, I've been obsessed with houses since I was 5 years old. My parents looked for a house for quite a while before they decided to buy one, and I was dragged to lots of these "open houses." After they finally purchased a house, I developed a fixation on beautiful big homes and looking at them in the "home magazines" you see neatly displayed on your way out of the grocery stores. I would pick up these magazines all the time! I admit, I still do. It's a compulsion. In kindergarten and first grade (yes, that young!) I would cut out pictures of "dream homes." I still have some of my cut-outs from back then. These cut-outs were of huge homes in Blackhawk, California that were going for a mere 400-500k, priced now for 2-4 million dollars.

I've been keeping my eye closely on the housing market for the past few years fairly diligently up until the last few months. I have always joked (well, seriously wanted to believe) that when Chris and I decide to buy, prices will be at their lowest. The ongoing talk over the last few years is that many people cannot really afford the places they buy. They put zero money down or very little down and take these ARM or I/O jumbo loans that are going to reset in 2-5 years thinking that housing only goes up and they will be able to sell for a profit. Many people were able to take advantage of the rising prices and happened to sell at the "right" time. Unfortunately, no one can really time the market well enough to know exactly when and where the "right" time starts and ends. Many people who bought property within the last 1-4 years are seeing that their property is now worth much less than they purchased it for.

I spent a bit of time today looking through the MLS and other real estate listing sites, and honestly, I was shocked. Prices are dropping much faster and lower than I thought they would. In many areas it looks like we are quickly reaching 2003 prices and in some areas, prices from the 1990's! The less than desirable areas are the first to drop, and have the most dramatic decline (for obvious reasons). In Richmond (not so desirable place to live), 10% of the single family homes for sale are between 100-200k, and 30% of the single family homes are under 300k. In places like Concord, San Jose, and many others around the Bay Area I was able to find many more homes under 300k. For those who might be unfamiliar with Bay Area prices, homes under 400k in many areas were virtually unheard of just 3 years ago (let alone below 300k)! I randomly looked up the sales history of several homes that are currently for sale in Petaluma and nearby towns. Many of these people bought within the last couple years and are willing to take a huge loss! Of just the few I saw, most are willing to take a 100-200k loss! (e.g. They bought for 650k in 2006 and are selling for 450k now.) It looks as though many people are panicking--either that, or banks are starting to panic with the foreclosed homes they need to sell.

For those who can buy, and more importantly actually qualify for a legit loan (banks are getting stricter I believe) this is a great time to buy in the area. I think prices in the more desirable areas will come down a bit more before prices start leveling off, but if you can put down a good-size down payment and are in it for the long term, why not buy now?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Keep Walking

So I had my first Japanese lesson today! My teacher is a really nice middle-age woman who has been teaching Japanese privately for the past six years. We went over some basics, I was given a book to learn from, and my next lesson is Monday. Chris should be starting his Japanese lessons soon as soon as they can find someone who can work during the hours he in available.

Chris is doing well at work. Things are going as smoothly as can be expected. He has an hour commute each way from work (yes, 2 hours round trip a day :P), but he gets some time in the morning to read on the train or listen to his Japanese podcasts. (Japanese podcasts are free Japanese audio lessons he can listen to on his way to work on his ipod) He ends up getting home a bit after 7 every night. I'm trying to get him to write in the blog :) at least a short bit of something. We'll see, maybe sometime soon when things aren't so hectic for him.

Chris is taking classes now too. Three classes! One robotics class and two seminars. One seminar is really interesting: "How to start your own business." I've even watched a couple of these seminar classes with him. They've had CEO's of start-ups come in and talk about how they got their start in their business. Very interesting and useful stuff too! He has homework due Friday in his robotics class, which his professor only recently posted online, so he has lots to do as soon as he gets home from work. Only a couple more months to go though and he's got his M.S. in Electrical Engineering! We're both very excited. School will be done for both of us! ::crossing fingers::

I spent a couple hours or more walking today--exploring a little more of the area.

Japanese Graffiti

Walkway to get to the 100 Yen store (dollar store) and Sports Authority

Brick buildings with stores and restaurants and outdoor ice skating

Filming crew and crowd of people

I think they were filming a commercial. You can play the video below to see.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Travel Bug Bites Hard

Last night Chris and I met up with a married couple who also lives in our building and works at the same company Chris works. We met up for dinner at a Hawaiian burger place below our building and dessert at their place afterward. They've been in Japan for 13 years on International Assignment! They have also traveled to more than 70 countries and we were able to hear about some of their adventures--the prehistoric looking komodo dragons on Komodo Island, exotic culture on Bali, food experiences in India, and the beautiful water on the many Maldives' islands in the Indian Ocean. (You can imagine I was just get more and more excited hearing about these places while they were talking about them!)

I've just had this huge desire to travel lately... There was a time before where I just wanted to go everywhere...every country. I would look through travel magazines and pictures of places, plan elaborate 6 month-long excursions that I would never be able to afford, but always dreamed of taking. I am an elaborate planner. Widdling our May'08 2 1/2 week Italy trip down to those 2 1/2 weeks took quite a bit of Chris's rationality and seeing hard numbers for how much the trip would cost if I kept increasing the amount of time we would be there. (Our work vacation limit was a big determining factor too.) Anyway, if I got away with my dreaming, that Italy trip would end up turning into excursions to Africa and other parts of Europe! I'll admit, I go crazy with planning.

That desire to travel has been mostly dormant for some years. The rational part of me knew that travel costs money and we have, saving for a house, etc, etc.. So I pushed much of the crazy travel desires aside for more "rational" choices. Now that we are in Japan, and I know we can hit a whole unique set of countries nearby, it brings all those dormant travel desires to the surface, and I am excited. But what really excites me is I feel excited that my reasons for wanting to travel aren't to "get away," but to experience and see. Many of my desires to travel before were muddied by my desire to get away from "the mundane" in life. Now being in Japan, surrounded by unique things makes me still want to experience more new unique things for those things in themselves, not to "get away" from where I am now. I feel more excited than I've felt in a long time, to experience more of what is here in Japan and to reach for what seems like just dreams. What is great is Chris wants to travel too, (maybe the specifics of our traveling desires are a little different) yet he remains the rational one who will not let me get carried away, but at the same time will make sure we actually get to do what we least some form of the dream :)

Onto other things... We started watching the Planet Earth (discovery channel series) and the pictures are really beautiful! It is a nature/wildlife series filmed in all areas of the world that is so much more vivid and interesting than you would normally see on TV. If you can get a hold of this series I really recommend it.

I'm still feeling a bit lost with grocery shopping (not sure if I mentioned it before in the blog). The couple we spent time with last night gave us a few more choices nearby for grocery stores, but I'm feeling lost lately in what to actually cook. I have more time now to cook a full dinner while I am not working, but feeling really lost on what to cook. Pasta is the easy choice (pic below)...It was really good (Gorgonzola sauce / shredded Parmesan), but you can't have pasta all the time. I think I used to cook more before...some reason I can't remember any of it now!

...Being mostly vegetarian with a very different set of food to choose from in the grocery stores trips me up I think. I did eat some fish recently along with a helpful herbal supplement and I felt fine. I had meat yesterday (very little even) and I've had a headache since last night! I can't say for sure if it is from the meat or not, but I think I'll stick to seafood only for now.

One thing both of us really enjoy are really good desserts. Back in San Jose we would go to Santana Row to a cafe that would serve really fancy looking small desserts. Sure enough they have lots of these right near our place! There are also many small cakes and other desserts to choose from. We bought a couple yesterday that were priced really well. You can see one in the pic below.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Officially Aliens

Chris and I got our alien cards this morning (our "official" IDs that we carry around instead of our passports). We did some grocery shopping this morning also, and now it's homework for Chris and writing for me. I think we'll try to go out and do something tonight. We still need to figure out what we can do at night around here though besides karaoke and eating. We noticed the stores close really early here. Most retail stores close around 8 pm. You would think in a big city like this the stores would close much later.

Thursday and Friday night we spent watching "The Island" (awesome movie!). It's the one movie we brought with us, and it never gets old of all the times we've watched it. Chris brought his set of 4 small speakers and sub-woofer which we've set up and attached to the computer to get some amazing sound! There is a mass of cords going everywhere, but music and the movie sounds so much fuller.

Random pic #1
As of recently, I've developed a new love for milk tea (pic below). Good stuff!

Random pic #2
One of many vending machines you'll see around the city:

I'll write more later.

Time for a cheese and cracker snack break.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Peaceful outside

Today is a good day. It feels peaceful outside...never thought I'd say that about a city, but it feels peaceful. It's sunny, the bay water is a deep blue color, the sky is a light blue, birds are flying past the window, the air feels clean and crisp...and everything just seem a little more alive.

I more or less finished organizing all our things that came in yesterday from the shipment. We have a few paintings to hang, but other than that, everything settled in its place. I did grocery shopping this morning, bought a cutting board and tea kettle, and then stopped by an English school for kids to see if they might have any job openings. The manager wasn't in, and from what it sounds like, they do their hiring at another location, so I will need to visit the web site for more information about job openings. It would be a great location though; it is about a 10 minute walk from our place.

I don't have anything in particular I want to write about now so I'll list some of my random discoveries about Yokohama:

-Chris and I continue to see many elderly people
with a scowl on their face.
-Seagulls here are spotless! They have bright white feathers
and bright orange legs and feet.
-Flan/Custard desserts are very common here--
a definite plus as custard is a great dessert!
-The fruit I buy continues to be REALLY good here
and looks flawless. I wonder if it is real? ;)
-The veggies are good too!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Morning Snow

We woke up to snow this morning! A nice surprise! :)

There was about two hours worth of snow flurries and it just recently turned into a slushy rain.

The movers also came this morning and just left about 10 minutes ago. We've been waiting on about 500 lbs worth of our things that were flown over. Today will be spent sorting, organizing and finding everything a place.

I just heard about Heath Ledger's death! Very sad to hear. It was a possible suicide or OD. For those who might not know, he was a fairly famous actor, only 28 years old. Sadly he left behind a very young daughter.

On the outside some people may look like they have it all, but 'having it all' doesn't have anything to do with being happy with yourself. All the stuff we have can't define us. It seems many people try to make their things or wealth define who they are, and because these things are shallow and temporary, things can't offer any real happiness. I think that idea is even more real to me now...On the surface, I never believed 'money brings happiness' so I never thought the 'pursuit of money' was very important in life, and having a brief taste of (what feels like) the "good life" really shows that belief true. No matter where you are in life, money or no money, the money doesn't change your true state of happiness or contentment. You can be happy and just-getting-by or happy and well-to-do. You can be miserable and just-getting-by or miserable and well-to-do. Ideally and realistically we'll rise and fall very little between the happy-highs and sad-lows, mostly staying level within happy-contentment. If you stay on a roller coaster long enough, you'll get sick.

Time to organize :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Monday Past

Monday Chris is off to work, but Adam, Aki and I spent part of the day in Shibuya walking around.

my lunch

After Shibuya we decide to see an aquarium in Shinagawa.

And then we head back on the train for Yokohama Station.

After resting at our place, Adam and Aki head to Tokyo to catch their 13 hour bus ride home.

A fun weekend all around! Thanks Adam and Aki for visiting us!

Sunday Past (continued 3)

Adam and Chris spot a roller coaster that spins while moving forward. Aki and I don't do well with spinning rides so we watch while they ride.

After we're done with the rides we head over to KFC for a quick bite.

Adam and Chris in serious contemplation of something?
We head back to our place out of the cold to relax for the rest of the afternoon...getting a nap in before going out later that night. For dinner we find a food court and some really good Indian food. Our friend Honda meets us at the food court and we head off for a few hours of Karaoke! Highlights: Chris and Adam singing 'Barbie Girl' and 'Endless Love' duets, and Honda and Adam's Japanese 'Funkastic' song :) No karaoke pictures yet--they are on Aki and Adam's cameras.

Sunday Past (continued 2)

Pictures taken after getting on the Ferris wheel...

To the right of the brick building you can just make out the outdoor ice rink

Rooftop Foot Spa

Rooftop Miniature Golf

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sunday Past (continued)

Just a few amusement ride pictures, more to come...

The Ferris wheel
People ride the log ride even when it's freezing outside!

The log ride

Really fun looking roller coaster

Same really fun looking roller coaster

Sunday Past

Adam and Aki arrive Sunday morning around 9 am tired from the long bus ride, but ready to go out and do things. From one of my walks earlier in the week, I saw a building which I assumed to be an aquarium (pictures of sea creatures on the outside) so we decided to walk to the aquarium.

building with sea creatures
walking to the building with sea creatures

After getting much closer to the building we realize that there is a big "P" painted on the side of the same building. It's not an aquarium, it's a parking garage. So...we decide to walk in another direction--towards an area we are a little more familiar with. We go off in search of riding the huge Ferris wheel not too far from us.

On our way to the Ferris wheel we come across a street performer. He is a foreigner who speaks (from what I can tell) perfect Japanese with a large crowd of adults and kids watching him juggle.

After watching his juggling act we continue on our way to the Ferris wheel. It is reportedly the largest Ferris wheel in the world, but may just be the largest in Japan (I may have my facts completely wrong here). The Ferris wheel is actually a part of an amusement park right by the Yokohama Bay.